Sunrise

After five weeks of back-t0-back work trips, I recently shipped myself off to a Vipassana meditation retreat in California. I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into, but I understood the basics: silence for ten days. Two vegetarian meals a day, plus fruit and tea  in the evening. The schedule ran from 4:30 AM to 9:30 PM. The pact of silence didn’t intimidate me nearly as much as the idea of being hungry and sleep-deprived for over a week. That said, I had been meditating regularly in a low-key kind of way for a while, and I was very excited to give it a try.

As it turns out, the lack of sleep and dinner was strangely easy. Once you begin, the only thing to do is focus on your meditation, appreciate the beautiful surroundings, and practice the challenging technique. I learned that Vipassana is an ancient, rigorous form of meditation that descended from Buddha’s original teachings. It’s extremely engaging, without any of the spacey relaxation I’d come to associate with meditation. The emphasis is on observing reality and choosing not to react to it. Not easy to re-wire the “habit patterns of your mind,” as they’re labeled, but rewarding. The retreat helped me gain a calmer, more balanced mindset, particularly when faced with difficult situations.  The idea of “equanimity” was repeated constantly.

The daily timetable
The daily timetable

If you have any interest in this, it is a great experience to try. The Vipassana website, www.dhamma.org is extensive. There you can find much more information on the technique and the history of the practice. The Huffington Post also has, “10 Ways that 10 Days of Silence Will Blow Your Mind.” (#4, “Don’t Scratch The Itch” definitely rings true.) There are retreats happening regularly around the world. And did I mention they’re free? Only students who have already participated are permitted to donate.

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